'Nobody in Illinois cares much more about this than I do': A trainer's drive to keep Arlington open

  • Larry Rivelli is training some 90 horses at Arlington Park this season and trying to organize a group to save the track. "We can't let this thing go down without at least swinging," he said.

    Larry Rivelli is training some 90 horses at Arlington Park this season and trying to organize a group to save the track. "We can't let this thing go down without at least swinging," he said. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Larry Rivelli, who has won eight consecutive training titles at Arlington Park, is leading an effort of horsemen and investors to buy the historic track.

    Larry Rivelli, who has won eight consecutive training titles at Arlington Park, is leading an effort of horsemen and investors to buy the historic track. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Veteran horse trainer Larry Rivelli works in the same barn on the backstretch of Arlington Park where his grandfather and uncle did. "You gotta love it. It's in your blood. It's gotta be a passion," Rivelli said.

    Veteran horse trainer Larry Rivelli works in the same barn on the backstretch of Arlington Park where his grandfather and uncle did. "You gotta love it. It's in your blood. It's gotta be a passion," Rivelli said. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/26/2021 6:17 AM

On the backstretch of Arlington Park is the barn where Larry Rivelli has been going since he was 6.

Now plastered with large "Riv" logos, the stable serves as Rivelli's home away from his North Barrington home and the base of his large thoroughbred horse training operation.

 

Arlington's leading trainer for the last eight seasons, Rivelli doesn't want this one to be the last at the iconic Arlington Heights oval.

The grandson and nephew of legendary Arlington trainers, Rivelli is now trying to organize a group of trainers, owners and investors to buy the historic track in hopes of making it "shine like the old days."

"It's still hands down the nicest track in the country. It's a rotten shame," Rivelli said of Arlington's impending closure. "I'm just one voice. I don't know how people just stand by and let it happen."

After Arlington owner Churchill Downs Inc. put the track up for sale in February, Rivelli said he and other horsemen talked about ways they could try to preserve the track itself while developing the rest of the 326-acre property -- and pooling their resources to do it. Whether Churchill listens to their overtures is another question.

"Nobody in Illinois cares much more about this than I do," said Rivelli, whose 90 horses are the most of any trainer at Arlington this season. "What can we do to save Arlington? We can't let this thing go down without at least swinging."

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Leave it to the veteran trainer to use terminology from another sport to describe his passion for horse racing at Arlington.

Rivelli has played sports his whole life -- he was a star running back at Crystal Lake South High School in the late 1980s and went on to set records in college at St. Cloud State in Minnesota. Learning from his grandfather Pete DiVito and uncle Jimmy DiVito, Rivelli started horse training in 2000.

He's been around to see the gradual decline in the sport of kings locally, but still relishes the thrill of victory every time one of his horses crosses the finish line first -- even in races where the purse winnings are meager.

"You gotta love it. It's in your blood. It's gotta be a passion," Rivelli said. "That rush I used to get when I scored a touchdown is now taken over by that horse that wins a race."

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